Artists get only one first record, and until it comes out and it’s in CD bins, there are no certainties.
Singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan, raised in rural Chester, Pa., and now based in Nashville, is playing the waiting game for the Sept. 23 release of his debut A&M album, “Mayday.”
“You’re never too sure it’s going to happen,” Ryan said recently. “You can’t get too excited, you can’t get depressed, so you end up paralyzed. I don’t know what I’m going to do when it’s actually in the stores, I’m just sitting on my hands.”
If there’s any justice in the music business, Ryan would succeed beyond all expectations. “Mayday,” produced by David Ricketts, is powerfully stark, drenched in poetic imagery. From the lead-off single “Guilty”: “Here comes the razor of doubt, here comes the falling out. Here comes the wave and the turn, here comes the crash and burn. Here comes I’m sick of crying, here comes man I quit trying. Here comes I hate you and I’m giving back all that you gave to me.”
That’s intensely honest, moody stuff from a 25-year-old who has a voracious appetite for books, The Blue Nile and the guitar. Ryan said his feet are firmly planted because of a solid upbringing.
“I come from very humble people,” he said. “They work very hard. They’re very moderate, neither left nor right. Also, it’s just understanding that anything’s laughable in hindsight. You’ve always got to keep your head on straight.
“I tell you, even when I have gotten a half-swagger on me, I’m serious, if I’m walking down a street and I’m feeling cocky, I trip on the curb or a fly will hit me in the nose. Something will happen to make me check myself. Me and the universe have this weird thing going; I have to be humble otherwise weird s— starts to happen.”
Ryan’s honesty extends to his image, or the lack thereof.
“A&M has been very aware, from the first time I met them, that I wanted to do things with integrity,” he said. “I don’t want to be mugging for a camera. We just did a video and it’s not at all what you’re used to seeing. I’m not saying you’ve never seen this kind of video before, but it’s not me trying to seduce you through the television. It comes from being self-conscious, honestly.”
A guy with personal songs, a weathered voice and a gritty guitar immediately gets lined up against the wall with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Ryan is prepared for it.
“It’s hard to be an American songwriter without sounding like those guys,” he said. “I mean, they’re the sidewalk and you have to crawl on it for a while. You put your hand in all those pies and you hope to come out with something that’s yours, but that’s a process.”
Regardless of what happens, Ryan is proud of what he has accomplished.
“I think it’s a great jumping off point for me,” he said, “and God willing, I’ll be able to make a bunch more records and go further.”